Sunday, 7 April 2013

Quills (2000)

Quills (Philip Kaufman, 2000) is  one of those movies that I'll never recommend to anybody in person because I'd be too afraid of what they'd think of me. But it is great, and I do recommend it, if you have a strong stomach.

"Paint me like one of your French girls."
Confined to a cell at Charenton Asylum, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) still manages to smuggle out smut for public consumption, transporting his pornographic manuscripts in the basket of complicit laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet). Unfortunately, his latest bestseller attracts the ire of Napoleon himself (Ron Cook: you know it's Napoleon because his feet don't touch the ground when he sits down). Said dictator sends the respectable Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to crack down on the crackpots. Royer-Collard doesn't like the "treatments" Charenton's Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) is utilizing: fresh air! Civilized conversation! Art therapy! When de Sade dares pen a piece satirizing Royer-Collard's jailbait bride, Charenton's overseers conspire to limit the Marquis's creative outlets. De Sade takes this as a challenge, and when the battle between madness, sanity, sex and religion is over, there are no survivors -- those who don't literally die are so broken that they are different people altogether.

Look, history assholes, Quills isn't real history. It doesn't even pretend to be real history, and nobody with the critical faculties of a five-year-old could mistake it for real history. It's a parable; the historical elements are a shorthand. The movie doesn't have to waste time establishing who Geoffrey Rush's character is: they just go "this is the Marquis de Sade" and you know everything you need to know. Structurally, it's less historical fiction than fairy tale. Three times, the Marquis manages to produce manuscripts in his room without pen or paper, like Hansel figuring out how to mark the path home without stones. Like so many fairy tales, Quills has a definite moral, but I don't think that having a moral is a mark against a film, as long as the filmmakers are honest about it. Subtlety, I'm sure the Marquis would agree, is an overrated virtue.

Hellooooooooo, Abbe!
SCENE STEALER: I will always love Joaquin Phoenix no matter how crazy he insists on being. This guy is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. When is Joaquin Phoenix not great, you might ask -- well, the answer is never. Have you seen him in Walk the Line?

Heeeeeere's Johnny.

I mean come on.

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